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A Divided Congress

Bitter political Partisanship results in a federal government shutdown, little progress on key science issues

December 23, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 51

As the first session of the 113th Congress comes to an end, there is little for lawmakers to celebrate. The extreme partisan politics that have been escalating on Capitol Hill in recent years came to a head this past fall. When Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives failed to agree on a fiscal 2014 budget measure, the federal government was forced to shut down for 16 days in October, until a stopgap measure was passed. The last government shutdown occurred in fiscal 1996.

As in years past, the Republican-controlled House was active, pushing forward legislation on energy and environmental issues that lawmakers knew stood no chance of clearing the Democrat-controlled Senate or being signed into law by President Barack Obama. That said, a few science-related bills did make it into law this year. Among them, a bill to reauthorize the Food & Drug Administration to collect fees from manufacturers of animal drugs, a bill to prevent counterfeit and contaminated prescription drugs from being sold, a bill to keep the nation’s helium reserve operating, and two bills that support the development of hydropower projects.

As the year came to a close, bipartisanship in Congress was making a rare appearance. A budget deal, worked out by Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), cleared the House and Senate (see page 7). The measure sets discretionary spending levels—which include most federal R&D—at $1.012 trillion for fiscal 2014, which began on Oct. 1, and $1.014 trillion for fiscal 2015. That restores about $63 billion of the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration.

What follows is a recap of congressional activity for the past year.



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